Friday, December 14, 2012

Black Bread White Beer ~ Niven Govinden



Amal’s recovering from the night before, where he allowed himself to get “stinking drunk” after leaving the hospital, his wife, and the now never to be born child of theirs. The ward sister had chased him out with well meaning remarks of support for his welfare and an understanding that he was in the way. It’s now the morning after this fracture in their lives and Amal needs to get to the hospital to collect Claud, his wife, and to make things right.

Black Bread White Beer explores the everyday minutiae of a loving relationship that, like microorganisms, can sustain or destroy a marriage.Those wonderful quirks of a loved one that can become needles attacking your very essence.

Covering the twenty four hours after the loss of their unborn child, we follow Amal, and through him we learn of his love & the relationship he has with his wife & it’s through him we watch it teeter, wobble & slowly fall. Amal is a modern Indian (Bengali) man married to a middle class English Woman, and it’s in the heartland of his wife’s family that this story plays out; with Claud retreating to her family home after her loss. Claud insists that they don’t tell her parents about the miscarriage (the visit is to help her father plumb the washing machine), meaning that they both have to bear their grief alone, isolating them from family, friends & ultimately each other.

This is the first book I’ve read by Niven Govinden but it won’t be the last, in this book he confronts all those issues facing people who dare to commit to another individual and does so with the utmost empathy, passion and yet with a precision that in other hands could have become cold and abstract. Although seen from Amal’s perspective, we get an insight into the complexity of a marriage, with all the subtle and not so subtle pressures that different cultural influences can place upon it and how shared memories can become a means of communication, when all around you is turmoil and hurt.

More Opinions.

“Niven Govinden brilliantly evokes the bleak comedy and deranged exhilaration of modern life. This is the sound of the suburbs.” Jake Arnott

“I’m full of admiration for this novel and the way it captures a couple as a crisis detonates in their marriage and exposes all sorts of emotional and cultural fault lines in the process. It was deft without being superficial, serious without being ponderous and pulled off the clever trick of constantly unsettling the reader’s sympathies and assumptions. And the novel’s setting - affluent, settled Sussex - is a wonderfully evoked foil for the novel’s themes of disruption and alienation. It’s a very fine book.” Alex Clark

“In this tale of everyday tragedy and everyday life, Niven Govinden confirms his status as one of the most important chroniclers of modern-day Britain. Written with grace, beauty and refreshing honesty, Black Bread White Beer explores human relationships in all their messy flux, creating a novel of genuine power and resonance. It is the kind of book readers long for, but so rarely find.” Stuart Evers

“A stylish, gripping, quietly heart-breaking book that takes the reader’s emotions and clamps them, vice-like, until we are left spent and breathless. It reminded me in both style and subject of the great American master James Salter, in the way it turns a cool, anthropologist's eye on a couple as their love for each other - already full of dangerous fissures - begins to crumble. One of the most moving, powerful novels I’ve read in a long while.” Alex Preston

“Niven Govinden’ s taut, poetically harrowing novel displays all the poise, balance and confidence of the most daring of tightrope walkers. Few contemporary novelists are able to maintain such courage. Black Bread White Beer confirms Niven Govinden as one of those few.” Lee Rourke

“Niven Govinden is one of my favourite writers in the world and his words are like punches to the chest. The book deals with themes of technology versus nature, mixed-race couples and how the small can seem so big, with wit, tension, emotion and humility. One of the most human books about grief ever written.” Nikesh Shukla


Niven Govinden(Wiki)

Niven Govinden(Booktrust Interview)


HarperCollins Friday Project




Anonymous said...

This sounds very interesting, although the cover suggests it's a real man's book. I do read ladlit, so I can manage a male perspective and I like stories about marriages (maybe to compare my own with?).

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Judith, although written from Amal's perspective, this is not by any definition "ladlit" , as Lee Rourke says in the reviews
"Niven Govinden’ s taut, poetically harrowing novel displays all the poise, balance and confidence of the most daring of tightrope walkers. Few contemporary novelists are able to maintain such courage"

Unknown said...

I spotted that I'd downloaded a kindle sample of this book last week and couldn't remember why I'd done so. Thanks for providing all those quotes. I'm guessing I must have seen talk on Twitter. Like Judith I'm worried it might be a mans book, but I'll try the sample I have and see how I get on. You have made it sound very good :-)

Tom Cunliffe said...

Sounds fascinating, and obviously deals with some complex issues - the differing cultures alone provides plenty of material I'm sure. But I don't usually read books with harrowing themes like the loss of a child as its almost too awful to think about. Great review

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Jackie, yes it's from the perspective of a man, but one that's trying to fight the clichés of culture & gender, not always successfully but with awareness of this fault, this is a wonderfully written book.

Hi Tom, If you can get past the big black hole at the centre of the narrative, this book will reward you with its beauty.

stujallen said...

just about to start this one ,I met Niven he is a really nice guy and this does sound wonderful book ,all the best stu

@parridhlantern said...

That's great will be interested in reading your post when finished & nice to know the writer of a liked book is nice.

markbooks said...

I downloaded this when it was longlisted for this year's DSC Prize but haven't got round to reading it yet. I will do so soon on the basis of this review, it sounds interesting.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Mark, would willingly read more of his work based on this book.